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Five exotic fruits bring depth in flavor: dragon fruit, jackfruit, lychee, mamey, rambutan

Take a stroll through any of our local Asian markets, like Oceanic in Tampa or Dong A in St. Petersburg, and you will pass mounds of exotic-looking fruits. Things like durian, a round, spiky fruit, or bitter melon, which looks like a shriveled cucumber — tropical fruits that are popular throughout the world but not often found alongside the apples and oranges in Publix.

And most of them look rather odd, which might be why they can be intimidating to eat or work with while cooking. But while they can conjure flavors we are used to, like cantaloupe or pear, most of these more exotic fruits offer flavors with more depth. This summer, consider exploring the following five exotic fruits. We offer a primer for each one, along with a recipe, and a chance to see them in all their glory.

Lychee

Lychees share a similar vibe with the rambutan, and are actually in the same family as rambutans and another fruit called the longan. This fruit is native to Southern China but grows in many tropical climates. Canned versions are relatively easy to find in grocery stores, but seek out the fresh ones when you can. The exterior of a lychee is more friendly looking than a rambutan, its bumpy skin a bright red when the fruit is ready to eat. You also have to peel the outer layer of a lychee off to eat it, and there is also a seed in the center. The actual fruit is fleshy and juicy, with an intense sweet flavor that is also somewhat floral. For this reason, it's a popular tropical fruit to use in cocktails and desserts.

EASY

Coconut and Lychee Sorbet

½ cup water

½ cup sugar

Pinch of salt

2 ½ cups chilled fresh or well-stirred canned unsweetened coconut milk

1 ¾ cups chilled lychee juice

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Bring the water, sugar and salt to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Transfer the sugar syrup to a small bowl and refrigerate, tightly covered, for at least 1 hour, until thoroughly chilled, or for up to 2 days.

Whisk together the coconut milk and lychee juice in a large glass measure or bowl. Whisk in the chilled syrup and lime juice. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to a freezer container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving. (The sorbet is best served on the day it is made.)

Spoon the sorbet into serving bowls or glasses to serve.

Serves 4.

Source: Epicurious

Rambutan

Rambutans are one of the most fun fruits to eat, little pale, grapelike orbs hidden inside spiky shells that may look too exotic to pick up at the grocery store. The fleshy fruit can vary in taste from sweet to sour, but both flavors are usually present, similar to a grape. When rambutans are first picked, their spikes are green, and they slowly turn black. Once this happens, the fruit is still good to eat for a few days.

Eating a rambutan can be intimidating if you've never done it. Here are some tips. First, use a paring knife to cut down the middle of the fruit, cutting the outer layer in half. (You could also tear the skin with your hands; this outer layer is rather soft.) Peel the skin off and reveal the smooth, juicy fruit inside. Rambutans do have a seed in the middle, and it is not edible. You can cut it out if you want, or try to eat around it like a plum.

EASY

Summer Rambutan Curry

4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

4 kaffir lime leaves, torn

3 red Thai chiles, stemmed

1 stalk lemongrass, smashed, fibrous outer layers removed, and inner core thinly sliced

1 (2-inch) piece galangal root, peeled and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

8 rambutan

2 tablespoons peanut oil

½ small pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 ½ cups coconut milk

2 cups chicken stock

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced on a bias

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 teaspoon palm sugar or light brown sugar

Cilantro leaves, to garnish

Lime wedges, for serving

Cooked white rice, for serving

Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic, lime leaves, chiles, lemongrass and galangal with the turmeric until a coarse curry paste is formed. Using a small paring knife, halve the rambutans and peel away their outer shell. Remove the soft flesh from the center nut, avoiding the papery skin that surrounds it, and place the flesh in a bowl.

In a 6-quart saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high. Add the pineapple and cook, stirring, until slightly caramelized, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pineapple to a plate. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and then add the onions. Cook, stirring, until golden brown, 4 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes more.

Pour in the coconut milk and stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook, stirring, until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Stir in the chicken and continue to simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Add the reserved pineapple and rambutan, and cook until the fruit is warmed through, about 2 minutes.

Remove the curry from the heat, and stir in the fish sauce and palm sugar. Garnish with cilantro, and serve immediately with the lime wedges and rice.

Serves 4.

Source: Saveur

Dragon fruit

Like most of these fruits, dragon fruit is most popular in tropical and subtropical regions, particularly in Asia and South America. And also like most of these fruits, this one looks rather intimidating from the outside. Also called pitaya, dragon fruit is vibrant pink with green cactuslike flourishes. On the inside, there is a creamy white flesh dotted with black seeds that look like poppy seeds. The skin is not edible, so to eat a dragonfruit, either slice it in half and eat the two halves with a spoon or fork, or cut the peel off and cut it into smaller pieces. They are typically between 3 and 6 inches long, so similar to a pear. Taste-wise, dragon fruit is relatively bland, sort of reminiscent of a kiwi.

EASY

Seared Scallops With Dragon Fruit Salsa

1 dragon fruit, finely diced

8 large scallops

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped chives

Put the dragon fruit in the fridge for a few hours before you cut it and allow it to get very cold. This will allow you to dice it finely.

Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium-high heat and pan-sear the scallops until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

In a separate bowl, combine the dragon fruit, lemon juice and chopped chives. Top the scallops with the dragon fruit salsa and serve.

Serves 4.

Source: Food Network

Jackfruit

The first thing to know about jackfruit is that each individual fruit is rather large. In fact, it is the largest tree-grown fruit in the world, with some weighing up to 100 pounds. Jackfruit is native to South and Southeast Asia. And similar to the lychee, the most popular way to buy jackfruit in the United States used to be as a canned product. Now, whole jackfruit, which are spiky and green when young and yellow when ripe, is easier to find. The texture resembles that of a mango, but richer, with flavors of pear, papaya and pineapple.

Cutting open a jackfruit can be an intense experience. Inside, you'll find yellow pods nestled in the core of the fruit, and hundreds of hard seeds. (These seeds can be eaten, too. When boiled they apparently taste similar to a potato.) To get the flesh out, cut it in half lengthwise and then into quarters. Be careful, as each cut will emit a sappy liquid. Cut out the white core and discard, then cut up the flesh, which should be yellow.

Jackfruit is a trendy fruit right now for its use in vegan or vegetarian dishes. When cooked and seasoned in a savory way, it can resemble pulled pork.

EASY

Barbecue Jackfruit Sandwiches

40 ounces of jackfruit, either fresh or 2 (20-ounce) cans of young green jackfruit in water

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon chili powder

¾ cup store-bought barbecue sauce

4 hamburger buns

Rinse, drain and thoroughly dry jackfruit. Chop off the center "core" portion of the fruit and discard. Place in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Mix together the next six ingredients and add to jackfruit. Toss to coat.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of your oil of choice and seasoned jackfruit. Toss to coat and cook for 2 or 3 minutes to achieve some color.

Add barbecue sauce and thin with enough water to make a sauce. Stir and reduce heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes (or up to 35 minutes on low for a deeper flavor).

Remove lid and stir occasionally.

Once the jackfruit has been properly simmered, turn up heat to medium-high and cook for 2 or 3 more minutes to get a little extra color/texture. Then remove from heat.

Divide jackfruit among buns. Serve with extra barbecue sauce. Leftover jackfruit keeps for up to a couple of days in the fridge, though it's best when fresh.

Serves 4.

Source: minimilastbaker.com

Mamey

Sometimes also known as mamey sapote, this fruit, grown primarily in Central America and the Caribbean, is popular at produce markets in South Florida. Mamey is a pink-red-orange melon, covered with a thin skin that is easy to peel off. Inside, the texture is rather creamy, meaning you can simply take a spoon to it and eat. At the center there is at least one large black seed. Mamey has the consistency of something like a sweet potato, and looks similar to a papaya when cut open. It has traces of flavors that include cantaloupe and pumpkin. Be warned that ripe mamey can look unappealing from the outside, slightly shriveled, but inside it can still be sweet and succulent.

EASY

Mamey Milkshakes

1 cup peeled, pitted and cubed fresh ripe mamey

1 cup milk

¼ cup buttermilk

¼ cup sugar or honey

1 dash pure vanilla extract

½ cup ice cubes

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 to 3.

Source: Epicurious

Contact Michelle Stark at mstark@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.

Five exotic fruits bring depth in flavor: dragon fruit, jackfruit, lychee, mamey, rambutan 07/25/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 3:15pm]
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